Viper helicopter. Photo: Czech NATO days 2023

EU Commission Starts Proceedings Against Czech Republic For Defence Procurement Violations

The European Commission has initiated proceedings against the Czech Republic over violations of EU directives when buying military helicopters, the Commission said in a statement yesterday.

The Czech Republic has been sent a formal notice for breach of an obligation under the defence procurement directive and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, the Commission said. Prague now has two months to respond and address the shortcomings highlighted by the Commission.

According to CTK, the breaches are related to the purchase of US military Venom and Viper helicopters, costing around CZK 17 billion.

“We will respond through the Foreign Ministry and then we will wait for further decisions,” the Czech Defence Ministry said in response. According to the ministry’s statement, the purchase of the helicopters was decided by the previous government and then-defence minister Lubomir Metnar.

Metnar told CTK and Czech Television he was convinced that everything was correct in the purchase of the helicopters. The decision took into account Czech security interests, he said, and the purchase removed the country from dependence on Russia. The US helicopters, which are to gradually replace the Russian Mi-24V/35 in the arsenal, were chosen by the Czech army soldiers themselves, he added.

The European Commission noted that the aim of the defence procurement directive is to increase transparency and openness in the European market, to ensure equal conditions for European companies and to safeguard the security interests of member states.

The Commission considers that the procurement procedure and conditions applied by the Czech Republic in awarding the contract were not in line with the Defence Procurement Directive and the principles enshrined in the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU, the EU executive said yesterday.

The specific infringement allegedly committed by the Czech Republic concerns the possible abuse of the intergovernmental procurement exemption. The direct award of the contract also violates the principles of non-discrimination, equal treatment and transparency by denying EU companies the opportunity to submit a bid and compete effectively for the contract, the commission explained.

“We are convinced that the purchase of 12 Venom and Viper helicopters is in order and we acted in accordance with all laws and regulations,” a spokesman for the Czech Defence Ministry said at the time. The Office for the Protection of Economic Competition subsequently fined the ministry CZK 550 million for violating the public procurement law.

The intergovernmental agreement for the purchase of eight multirole Venom and four attack Viper helicopters was signed on 12 December 2019, by Czech and US defence ministers Metnar and Mark Esper. In Washington in April 2022, the current minister Jana Cernochova negotiated the delivery of eight more older aircraft (two Venom and six Viper), which the Czech Republic would receive from the US for free.

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